Moira & Darren
Moira Stanley used to live like a princess. But when her wealthy husband’s ex-lover got her claws into him, Moira’s rich life in London shattered and she became penniless Cinderella again.
Now broke and alone at Christmas, Moira has no one to turn to. So when a handsome stranger offers a ray of hope, she’s ready to take a risk and travel to meet him in Venice.
But anything can happen on a luxury vintage train as it speeds across snowy mountains towards Venice.
A husband and wife can bump into each other. Hidden passion can reignite. And when fiery need takes over, well-laid plans can suddenly change.
But is all as it really seems?
Will this second chance have a happy ending for Moira, or is it all just one final game of revenge?
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Love Express.
– STANDALONE contemporary romance with steamy love scenes (readers 18+)
– Long Novella: 162 print pages
Read sample chapters below.
“Moira leaves her husband with only a note saying “it’s over,” scrapes together a tiny amount of money and a few possessions and tries to leave her old life behind. Your heart wants to break for her, as she finds herself virtually penniless and alone right before Christmas. I really enjoyed this story and the rekindling of the romance between Moira and Darren. ” (Amazon US, January 08, 2017)
“It is well written and edited. The characters are easy to fall in love with and well developed. It is a sweet and elegant story that I could not put down. ” (Amazon US, January 07, 2017)
“Loved everything about this book,the storyline, characters.It was so well written,I wish it had more chapters. ” (Goodreads, January 07, 2017)
“The bread’s a bit stale, but you don’t mind, do you?” Moira Stanley asked softly. “Just nibble around the funky spots on the edge. That’s what I do.”
The rat didn’t answer. But its occasional muffled squeak telegraphed its delight as it gobbled up the chunk of white bread with all the gusto of eating the world’s most luxurious Christmas cake.
Moira slowly reached down and picking up her Prada kitten heels, placed them beside her on top of the bed.
Just in case.
Rats, cockroaches, spiders. She’d come across plenty of them over the years of cleaning other people’s homes, but she still liked to keep a healthy distance.
“I won’t have any bread for you tomorrow,” she continued in a quiet voice so as not to scare the little grey rat away. She looked at the handful of pound notes and coins laid out before her on the tatty bed cover. “Actually, I won’t have any bread for me either.”
Four days ago she’d been worth billions.
Today she was worth eighty pounds and thirty pence exactly.
She’d even left her credit cards behind. His credit cards.
Picking up the four twenty-pound notes, she set them aside. “That covers the room for today and tomorrow. Which leaves us…” she swiped the coins into a pile, “…thirty pence. Yay!”
She rubbed a weary hand across her face. Thirty pence might have bought her a bottle of water anywhere else, but in London she’d be lucky if it bought her a bottle cap.
“And we have to make it stretch to breakfast, lunch, and dinner for god knows how long,” she said to the busily chomping rat. “That agency better get back to me quick with a job, or after tomorrow it’ll be a roofless, foodless, merry Christmas.”
The rat ate on.
“You don’t care, do you?” she muttered.
The last of her bread, which she’d turned into a ketchup sandwich, was quietly dissolving into stale soggy mush on the bedside table. She’d bought the pack of white bread and the small bottle of ketchup days ago when the worst of the hunger pangs had struck. Cheap food that had quietened her stomach but tasted like tart paper mache. The rat loved the oozy bread though. It couldn’t get enough of the stuff after she’d coaxed it out of its hole in the wall three days ago.
“We have lunch…” She eyed the mushy sandwich half-heartedly. “But I totally understand if you don’t want to share. A few missed meals might do me good anyway,” she muttered, tapping her curvy hip. Then she frowned. “I don’t get it though. There’s usually tons of cleaning work around Christmas time, what with the parties going on. But they keep saying they’ve got nothing for me.”
The rat snuffled about and munched, oblivious to her plight.
Moira sighed. “I think they want me to stop pestering them and take Alessandro’s offer.”
Problem was, Alessandro’s offer was no longer about the job. It was now about her.
She’d drowned in tears her first day here, but no one had come to dry her tears for her, and without a paying job she wouldn’t survive. So she’d returned to the one work she’d known before her marriage. Housekeeping.
The agency she’d called had given her details to a businessman who desperately needed a housekeeper. He’d turned out to be Italian and more than she’d bargained for.
She picked up her phone from the bedside table and flicked to Alessandro’s photo that he’d sent her. “Way too dark, handsome and sexy for his own good.” She smirked at the rat. “Sorry to say it, you’re cute and all, but you’ve a long way to go before you’ll compete at this level.”
The rat scurried in small circles, searching for the last crumbs, and not finding any, twitched its pink nose in the air and headed for its nearby hole. Moira quickly reached over to her sandwich and tearing off another soggy chunk, threw it near the rat. It jumped on the bread and settled down to a new feast.
Moira settled back against her pillow. “I think he likes me. You know… like a man would. But why me? He could have any woman he wants.”
She’d sent Alessandro a photo of herself when he’d insisted. She was pretty enough, but her plain brown hair, prettyish features and ordinary blue eyes were unlikely to stun a man like him.
“But he’s kind. He always knows what to say… or text. Take notes.” She waggled the phone in the rat’s direction. “He cares and knows how to show it. That’s how you reach a woman’s heart, not by scoffing her sandwich without even a thank you.”
She returned to studying Alessandro’s photo.
His first texts three days ago had been impersonal, more of an interview. He worked at a hotel and said he was always on the job, so he needed an affordable housekeeper to keep his home. She’d answered his questions as well as she could. But her answers had intrigued him and his texts had come more often, becoming sweeter, wanting to know more about her. And she’d ended up telling him everything, right down to the sorry breakup of her marriage.
Now he wanted her, and not just as his housekeeper.
The rat scrabbled about on the wooden floorboards, hoovering up breadcrumbs.
“You’re right. I need the job and a place to stay,” Moira said. “But also… It’s Christmas. I don’t want to be alone.” She paused. “Alessandro said I won’t be if I’m with him. But… I’m not sure… I’m not ready…” She regarded the busy rat in silence for a moment. “Thanks for being here with me.”
A heavy thump landed on her room door.
Moira dropped the phone and sat bolt upright, her heart beating a frantic tattoo in her chest. The rat gave a terrified squeak and disappeared into its hole.
“Be careful, you dork!” A man’s laughing voice said right outside the door.
A second man guffawed. “Wasn’t my fault! You can’t tell your right foot from your left.”
Moira breathed out.
This hostel was full of them, all looking for the cheapest place to stay in London.
“Hey Dave, bet you woke up whoever’s in there,” the second man continued.
“Nah, it’s past noon. There ain’t no one in there. Watch this…” Dave cleared his throat and rapped on her door. “Pizza Delivery,” he hollered.
Moira rolled her eyes but stayed on the bed.
The two outside snorted and giggled like they’d played the funniest joke of the century.
“Come on, man. Let’s get out of here,” Dave said.
And they scampered away.
It was Friday lunchtime and things weren’t going to get any better towards the evening. A hostel full of drunk and rowdy students wasn’t exactly going to be heaven.
Loneliness washed over Moira and she stared at the tiny room with its bare walls, sparse furniture and one square window. Over the past four days it had become her home and her prison.
She closed her eyes. She didn’t have to live like this. But was going to Alessandro the right thing to do?
Did she have any choice?
The phone buzzed and Moira’s eyes flew open.
‘Time to come to me.’ Alessandro’s text flashed on screen.
Her stomach clenched. Her choice was being made for her.
‘Look outside your window.’
And picking up the phone, she got off the bed and headed to the window. A lone black taxi waited patiently outside the hostel entrance.
‘Is that taxi for me?’ she typed.
It shouldn’t surprise her. In the three days they’d been texting, one thing she’d learnt was he was forceful.
‘It’ll take you to the airport. Your tickets are booked for Paris.’
Moira stepped back from the window. ‘You know I’d like the job, Alessandro, but…’
‘The job, yes. But I wish to give you so much more.’
‘I’m not sure this is a good idea.’
‘Don’t you trust me, tesoro mio?’
My darling. The typed endearment he now used for her wore down her resistance.
‘I do…’ She hesitated.
He must have sensed her hesitation. ‘Don’t be scared. You know me.’
Well… she knew his kind words. But it had all seemed like a dream until now, and suddenly it was time to wake up and go to him.
‘Are we rushing this?’ She sneaked a look out the window again. The taxi was still outside.
‘What if your husband finds you?’
‘He isn’t looking for me. He’s too busy bedding his mistress.’
A pause. ‘He’s a rich man and a proud one, isn’t he? He’ll want you back.’
‘Why would he come after me? He’s the one who cheated.’ But then realization dawned. ‘You mean for revenge.’
Another pause. ‘Maybe revenge.’
Moira shook her head. ‘But he was never cruel like that when we were married, just distant.’
Uncertainty gripped her and she bit her lip. Her husband did have a ruthless streak though. He’d wielded it in his business, playing his opponents to their knees for his advantage. Would he now wield it against her?
Alessandro’s text had her staring. ‘You stepped on his pride by walking out on him. Men don’t easily forget a crushed ego. Do you still want to stay where he could find you?’
‘I never meant that much to him. He wouldn’t waste his time on me.’
‘But you’ve made him a laughing stock in front of everyone he knows. Will he forgive that?’
Moira’s breath caught. The high-class circles they’d moved in were venomous, and her husband wouldn’t take kindly to being made a fool in front of them. What if he tried to make her suffer for that? The fact that she’d loved him with all her heart wouldn’t save her.
‘You’re not alone, tesoro. I’m here for you.’
Defeat engulfed her and Moira looked around the cheerless room. She’d walked out of her husband’s penthouse with her meagre possessions, ready to face the world alone. But time and heartbreak had crushed her bravado to pieces. ‘I can’t fight him, Alessandro. I’m not strong enough.’
‘You were strong enough to leave him. But you don’t have to take the next step alone.’
She glanced at the hole the rat had disappeared through. Gone. Leaving her alone once more.
Maybe it was a blessing Alessandro had found her in time.
‘Come to me, Moira. I’ll protect you.’
‘Don’t be afraid. I’m waiting for you.’
Moira’s unease ebbed a little and she smiled at her phone. Alessandro’s words reached out and caressed her, holding her close in a foreign land.
She glanced around. The Paris train station heaved with bodies and noise on a Friday evening. The jingle of Christmas carols over the speakers mingled with the chatter of people rushing home from work. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and excitement hung thick in the air like fog.
Excitement gripped her too, a nervous excitement, like stepping off a high diving board for the first time. But she couldn’t turn back now. Only heartbreak and soul-crushing loneliness waited back in England.
She had to see this through.
‘I’m just a day away,’ she typed before she could change her mind.
A group of businessmen hurried past, forcing her to sidestep them, and she edged closer to the safety of the electronic display board. The Venice-bound Royal Express would be leaving platform ten in less than fifteen minutes.
Platform ten. She slipped her phone back into the pocket of her red wool coat and looked around, unsure whom to ask. Different uniforms scurried about and any one of them might help. But her French like her Italian worked on guesswork at best, and she was running out of time.
She took a last glance up at the board and stepped back straight into a metal luggage trolley at least a foot taller than her five foot five. The metal jangled against her, sending her staggering backwards into a pair of strong male hands.
“Pardon, mademoiselle! C’est ma faute,” the anxious-looking porter said, steadying her.
Moira quickly straightened. “Please don’t worry,” she said, flustered but giving him a reassuring smile. She righted her red coat over the Chanel jacket and the pencil skirt that hugged her curves. “My fault entirely. I should have looked.”
He returned her smile and white teeth flashed against dark skin in a young kind face, and Paris suddenly seemed less intimidating.
“Could you show me to platform ten? Um… sil vous plait?”
“Ten… dix? You go on L’Express Royal?” he asked, pointing up at the electronic board.
“Yes.” She nodded enthusiastically, ridiculously grateful that he spoke English.
“Then follow. The train, it will leave soon, non? We will hurry.”
“Oh gosh, yes. I don’t want to miss it.” And grabbing her small travel case, she rushed after him.
He obviously knew this station like the back of his hand because he weaved a quick path through the crowds, handling the rattling loaded trolley like it was on wings rather than clankety wheels. And before Moira knew it, she was standing on a cold platform ten with her frantic breath coming out in wintery puffs and with the majestic royal-blue carriages of the Royal Express stretched out before her.
“Thank you!” she called after the porter as with a grin and a wave he pushed the luggage trolley away.
And she turned back to the train where blue-capped and uniformed crew were greeting the boarding passengers with smiles and pleasant welcomes.
Her nerves cramped again. God, was she doing the right thing?
If her mother had still been alive, she’d have freaked. Which sane person ran off to Venice to be with a man they’d started texting three days ago?
Another announcement sounded over the station’s public address system, pausing the Christmas carols.
And Moira pulled herself together. She was here now. No more fear.
Time to throw all caution to the winter wind and let a new life take her. And tightening her grip on her travel case, she stepped forward into the unknown.
* * *
“Damn thing!” Darren Tate tugged open the bow tie’s useless knot and yanked the strip of black silk from around his shirt collar.
He was a Tate, head of a multinational brewing company whose beers kings and presidents drank, and he couldn’t even knot a bow tie.
But then he’d never had to bother, having grown up in a household bursting with servants. Damn sure he’d had one for each shoe and one for each pair of socks also. Faceless people who’d come but then legged it with startling speed once they’d felt the full fury of the tyrant who’d employed them.
That had been his father. The man had played ‘Lord of the Manor’ to the hilt, even though their ancestors had been penniless refugees from Europe. And nor had his father styled himself as a kind master, not to his servants, or his meek wife, or even his only son. Darren grimaced. Everything and everyone around his father had had its place, and god help the brave soul who overstepped those invisible boundaries.
Still, some servant or other had always been on hand to do everything in Darren’s regimented childhood, but bow ties had been his sweet mother’s speciality.
“It makes you look so smart,” she’d say with her soft smile as she tied it around his boyish collar. “My handsome lad.”
He rubbed the fine silk between finger and thumb. Maybe that’s why he still wore the wretched thing. It kept his mother close, the one soft spot in his life. She’d knotted his bow ties for him until her death. Then a few months ago the task had fallen to another woman.
He dropped the black silk on to the white marble vanity and stared into the tiny bathroom’s even tinier mirror.
He’d inherited his father’s aristocratic looks, and he’d perfected that cold turn of countenance and set of jaw that radiated command. That same self-assured command had let him walk unchallenged into his father’s position as head of the company at just twenty-eight years of age when the old man died last year.
He studied his reflection. Looking at him, no one would guess his marriage had just broken down.
With an irritated grunt he strode out of the bathroom cubicle to the window seat where his one and only case lay open. If everything went to plan, this overnight trip would see him in Venice tomorrow and in his woman’s arms and bed for the whole of Christmas weekend.
Reaching over the case he slid the window open, letting in the noisy bustle of the station along with the sharp winter air. It smelled of diesel fumes, but that beat the cloyingly sweet floral scent they insisted on pumping into the cabins. At least they’d held back from pumping those infernal Christmas carols around the cabins too.
He sat down and pushed past the haphazardly folded clothes in the case until he came to the silk-wrapped bundle he’d carefully hidden beneath everything else.
Normally he had his assistant shop for gifts, but these were special and not meant for anyone’s eyes but his. And he opened the ivory silk to expose the delicate red lace within.
A babydoll set complete with barely there thong. He ran a hand over the material, and the image of her luscious body filling the soft lace had him hardening right there. She’d wear it just long enough for him to see then he’d rip it off her and take her harder than he’d ever taken her before.
Hell, he ached for her.
He’d waited too long. Even one more night was torture.
He opened the red jeweller’s box nestled beside the lace and took out the sparkling diamond ring inside. He should have put this ring on her finger long ago. He’d written his restless words of desire on a note beside it, but this diamond would speak louder than any scribbled words ever could. And when she wore this ring, she would know she belonged to him.
Placing the ring back in its box, he covered everything with the silk wrap once more. The end of his brief marriage had proven to be a blessing in disguise. It had opened his eyes to what truly mattered. Now the woman he craved was just a train journey away.
Impatience roared through him but he tampered it down. No need to rush. He’d planned everything for them. Until now he’d let his work consume him, but for her he’d take his time. They would uncover each other bit by bit until their hearts joined and beat as one.
But this damn train…
It hadn’t been his idea.
His wife had booked this vacation a month ago but that plan had collapsed with his marriage. So what the hell. Why not put the ticket to better use?
Only trouble was the entire train and its crew fancied themselves as throwbacks to the Roaring Twenties. Passengers had to dress to impress to even have a drink in the damn bar car. His position as CEO came with enough posturing and peacocking to last him a lifetime, and he’d have happily spent the whole trip in jeans and a t-shirt, but he was keeping a low profile. Even his assistant, a draconian old lady he’d inherited from his father, had no clue about what he’d planned for this weekend.
So needs must. And going into the bathroom cubicle, he took out his bottle of cologne and splashed a little on himself. The bow tie lay forlornly on the vanity and he ignored it. There was a limit to the pain he was willing to take in his effort to merge with the locals. And he exited the bathroom with the top button of his white shirt left rakishly open.
He shrugged on his dark jacket, and sliding open the polished walnut door of his now cold cabin, stepped out into the warm corridor beyond.
* * *
Moira rummaged in the side pocket of her travel case and pulled out the monogrammed blue envelope that held her ticket.
The Royal Express screamed luxury, from the straight gold lines on the outside of the carriages, to the colourful coat of arms painted on the platform floor, all the way to the expensive ticket she held in her hand.
In her ordinary life, she’d never have afforded to set foot on this platform. But she’d been living a wealthy dream for a while now, and before the dream ended at the stroke of midnight, she’d make sure it took her all the way to a new beginning.
Straightening her shoulders and hiding her nervousness behind a learned pretence of wealthy confidence, she approached the steward who was standing in front of the carriage she’d been allocated to.
“Bonjour, madame,” he said cheerfully, his eyes catching the flash of gold on her hand. “It is just you?”
He was a short middle-aged man with dark hair and eyes and an avuncular smile. And like all the other crew members, everything about him was blue and pristine and ironed to within an inch of its life, including his hat.
She handed him her ticket. “Yes. Just me. And…” She curled her hand out of the way. “It’s mademoiselle, not madame. Mademoiselle Stanley.”
He glanced at the ticket and then back at her. “Ah…” And clearly choosing not to say more, he beamed. “You are in cabin G3, mademoiselle.” He took her travel case from her and standing to one side, gestured for her to enter. “Welcome to the Royal Express.”
Stomach fluttering with nerves, Moira climbed into the carriage.
The steward handed her case to her. “You shall of course have an unforgettable journey, mademoiselle.”